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5 takeaways from PM Narendra Modi’s all-party meet on Kashmir

Thursday’s was the first meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the leaders from Jammu and Kashmir for deliberation on political progress in the Union Territory, after the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019.

It was the death anniversary of Syama Prasad Mookerjee, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh founder who remains an emotively inspiring figure for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on Thursday. It was on this day that Prime Minister Narendra Modi held his Kashmir meeting.

Syama Prasad Mookerjee died in a Jammu and Kashmir prison in 1953 agitating against its special status granted earlier under Article 370 and Presidential Orders under 35A. The Modi government fulfilled that demand on August 5, 2019.

Thursday’s was the first meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the leaders from Jammu and Kashmir for deliberation on political progress in the Union Territory. Here are five major takeaways from PM Modi’s Kashmir meeting:

Centre conciliatory towards status quoists

The central government had moved swiftly in August 2020 before stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special status to put several leaders under house arrest in the Valley. Three former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti were among those leaders. The Centre had apprehension that they might create trouble in fulfilling a long-standing poll promise of the BJP.

Later, these leaders buried their political differences to demand restoration of status quo in Jammu and Kashmir. Some of them charged the Centre with furthering the BJP’s Hindutva agenda in the Kashmir Valley.

On the government’s part, Union Home Minister Amit Shah vented out his frustration by labelling them as ‘Gupkar Gang’ after the leaders formed People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) to demand undoing what was done on August 5, 2019.

Centre ready to restore statehood

Though the Centre never closed this option but at the Kashmir meeting, PM Modi reportedly told the political leaders that Jammu and Kashmir would become a State again. However, the catch remains in the timing. PM Modi repeated it would happen “at an appropriate time”.

But the meeting with the leaders of Jammu and Kashmir 22 months after the momentous decision indicates that the Centre is ready to move in that direction now.

The buzz is that only Jammu and Kashmir could be converted from a Union Territory to a State while leaving Ladakh out from this decision at least for the time being.

Centre ready to restore statehood

Though the Centre never closed this option but at the Kashmir meeting, PM Modi reportedly told the political leaders that Jammu and Kashmir would become a State again. However, the catch remains in the timing. PM Modi repeated it would happen “at an appropriate time”.

But the meeting with the leaders of Jammu and Kashmir 22 months after the momentous decision indicates that the Centre is ready to move in that direction now.

The buzz is that only Jammu and Kashmir could be converted from a Union Territory to a State while leaving Ladakh out from this decision at least for the time being.

Centre ready for assembly election

Another significant message from PM Modi’s Kashmir meeting was the Centre’s readiness for assembly election in Jammu and Kashmir. Delimitation was discussed at the meeting. Omar Abdullah later expressed his reservations over delimitation asking why Jammu and Kashmir was singled out.

For the record, constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir did not undergo delimitation in 2008 like the rest of India. The last delimitation in Jammu and Kashmir was carried out in 1995-96.

Further, the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act 2019 increased the number of assembly seats from 107 to 114 — calling for delimitation.

The Election Commission too held a meeting with district election officials from Jammu and Kashmir a day before PM Modi’s Kashmir meeting. Indication is clear that the Centre is moving towards holding assembly election in Jammu and Kashmir.

While the Centre sent out invitation for talks without setting out conditions, the Gupkar Alliance too climbed down from their demand of restoring Article 370 as a pre-condition for dialogue.

Omar Abdullah later said it was “pointless to ask the Narendra Modi government to restore Article 370” as it was the architect of the new political structure in Jammu and Kashmir. The Article 370-battle would be settled in the Supreme Court. This suits the Modi government as well.

Ladakh remains a UT

As the Gupkar Alliance now appears more inclined towards getting into electoral politics with statehood restored to Jammu and Kashmir, a balance could be struck by keeping Ladakh out of the political boardroom for now.

Creation of Ladakh as a Union Territory and placing most of the territories occupied by Pakistan and China within its boundaries signalled that the Modi government considered this decision more strategic than political.

Ladakh as a Union Territory also insulates large parts of Jammu and Kashmir from external or border security situations. China is still pushing at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh.

Gilgit-Baltistan, under Pakistan’s occupation, too became a territory of Ladakh leaving this an issue to be resolved by the central government and thus shielding Jammu and Kashmir from the worries of strategic matters.

This means that the unification of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir may take a backseat for a long term.

India’s message to the world

The Kashmir decision of 2019 evoked international reactions. Many say Chinese aggression in Ladakh in 2020 was its response to the Modi government’s Kashmir decision.

After the change in government in the US, the Joe Biden administration has expressed its interest in normalcy returning to Jammu and Kashmir. Withdrawal of Nato troops from Afghanistan is another factor that may have its bearing on Jammu and Kashmir’s security and law and order situation.

By moving forward to holding assembly election in Jammu and Kashmir, the Modi government would be sending a message to the international community — the message of democratic participation in a terror-hit province but under a very different and insulated set up.


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